Screen (Insika)

Date: early to mid-20th century

Geography: Rwanda or Burundi

Culture: Tutsi peoples

Medium: Cane, reed fibers and natural black dye

Dimensions: H. 30 x W. 20 in. (76.2 x 50.8 cm)

Classification: Basketry

Credit Line: Purchase, William B. Goldstein and Marie Sussek Gifts, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.127


This woven panel emblazoned with an elegant serrated design relates to one of eastern Africa's major decorative arts traditions. Across both Rwanda and Burundi, finely woven basketry in the form of receptacles and architectural elements were historically the creations of privileged Tutsi women. Given the inherent fragility of the medium and the vulnerability of these works to destruction due to regional conflict of the last decade, this early example is a rare survival that exemplifies the apogee of technical refinement achieved. Such woven screens, known as insika, enhanced the domestic interiors of wealthy Tutsi as a form of mural decoration that compartmentalized the space. Given its scale and convex structure, this particular example appears to have served to enclose the area situated at the base of a bed. In this function, it complements the inyeqamo panel in the Museum's collection (2007.186), which served as a flexible element that could be rolled up to allow passage to the sleeping area.

The front side is composed of reeds, in natural and dyed black color, with the individual passages cut and arranged to create a dynamic wave design. Three sets of complex structures have been skillfully integrated to create the distinctive curvature of the panel.